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Central Illinois to get more turbines

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) – Illinois may have the Windy City, but it also seems to have a windy prairie.

When the Twin Groves Wind Farm east of Bloomington started production in March 2007, it marked the start of a new industry in Central Illinois.

More than three years later, proposed projects could increase the number of wind turbines planted among area corn and soybean fields from 705 to more than 2,772 in five years, according to data from Illinois State University’s Center for Renewable Energy.

David Loomis, director for the ISU center, said the fourfold increase for the six-county area is not surprising.

‘This area is a sweet spot for wind farms,’ Loomis said. ‘This area is the intersection of good wind resources and high-voltage transmission lines.’

Among the latest projects is one by Spanish company, Iberdola Renewables, which won approval for its 165-turbine Streator Deer Run wind farm in Livingston County last month. Meanwhile, Houston-based Horizon Wind Energy will be seeking approval Oct. 19 from the McLean County Board for its 223-turbine Bright Stalk project.

And more are on the way.

For proponents, the towers can’t be put up fast enough. Wind farms spur economic development with construction jobs and business expansions, and provide stable tax revenue in the midst of a recession and an ailing state economy. But there are others who worry about the turbines’ effect on property values and their disruption of the serene rural landscape.

Ridgeview Superintendent Larry Dodds said the additional tax money generated from the turbines has helped his rural Colfax-based district balance its $8 million budget without making dramatic cuts.

‘I wish I could add Miracle-Gro out there to help make the turbines grow faster,’ he said.

Tax revenue from the nearby Twin Groves Wind Farm pumped more than $1.2 million into his district’s budget, Dodds said. The extra money also has helped the school district stay afloat while waiting for the financially ailing state to make its promised payments to schools.

But chief among the concerns for Pontiac attorney Carolyn Gerwin is the effect of wind farms on surrounding properties.

Gerwin, who represented property owners in the Deer Run project area, presented reports from an appraiser who claimed that property values decrease by 25 percent in an area where a wind farm is located.

‘There are people who say they can’t sell their house because they are in a wind farm area,’ Gerwin said. ‘That is data that is never entered into these property value studies because those studies are routinely are based on actual home sales up to 10 miles away from the project area.’

Meanwhile, Loomis estimated Illinois’ 21 operating wind farms have added about $8.3 million to the checkbooks of the farmers who rent their land for the turbines. Also, Loomis said construction of those projects added nearly 10,000 construction jobs and $509 million in payroll to the state, and created new opportunities for local businesses who can supply parts for the turbines.

If there is an irony, it is that most of the energy is produced in Central Illinois is purchased by energy companies including ComEd, Ameren and the Tennessee Valley Authority and used elsewhere. A pair of transmission lines owned by power giants ComEd and Ameren run through the region, giving the wind farm companies easy access to the power grid, said Robin Park, a project manager for Horizon.

‘It’s an easy place to get wind; it’s an easy way to transfer the energy and we have a huge customer base,’ Park said.